Webern: Complete Works for String Quartet and String Trio
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The music for string quartet offers a snap-shot of Webern's extraordinarily rapid progress from his studies with Schoenberg, through the various stages of his Expressionist and 12-note maturity. The Artis Quartet of Vienna are outstandingly sympathetic guides to this journey. They are warm but never sickly sweet in the 1905 'Slow movement' (obviously influenced by Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht) and similarly in the String Quartet composed later that year, where echoes from the master's Op. 7 Quartet jostle alongside reminiscences of Richard Strauss. For my money Webern's quartet masterpiece is his Op. 5, the Five Movements, here played with passion and precision, and the Artis bring equal mastery to the more distilled Expressionism of the Bagatelles and to the 12-note Quartet and Trio (whose musical qualities, I confess, still elude me).These performances and the listed comparisons are far superior to anything available 25 years ago when I was first getting to grips with this music. Pushed to express a preference, I would say that the members of the Artis Quartet (previously best known to collectors for their excellent Zemlinsky cycle, also on Nimbus) are the most fully inside the idiom. The Emerson tend to be merely fulsome in the early works and to play the later ones for external effect, while the Arditti are marginally less flexible in their phrasing. All three versions are superbly recorded. The Nimbus disc comes with an authoritative booklet note by Malcolm Hayes.David Fanning -- From International Record Review - subscribe now
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I was delighted to discover in the extremely informative liner notes that the Artis are former students of my beloved Lasalle Quartet, who, for my money, still represent the standard by which most other performances in this repertoire are judged. Their students do them proud and deserve a place in your collection if this music is important to you. The disk is very well recorded with excellent sonics and serves admirably as a moderately-priced alternative to the Lasalle box for those seeking an introduction to this music.